Toulouse complete the double as La Rochelle’s wait for glory goes on

European champions secure a 21st Bouclier de Brennus in Paris

Toulouse lock Rory Arnold runs with the ball during the French Top 14  final against  La Rochelle at the Stade de France. Photograph: Loic Baratoux/AFP via Getty Images

Toulouse lock Rory Arnold runs with the ball during the French Top 14 final against La Rochelle at the Stade de France. Photograph: Loic Baratoux/AFP via Getty Images

 

Toulouse 18 La Rochelle 8

La Rochelle are the new force in French rugby, as evidenced by their first French Championship final in 123 years one month after their first European final. But, as was the case in Twickenham a month ago, Toulouse reaffirmed their status as the kings of France as well as Europe to win their 21st Bouclier de Brennus.

They may be good, but as long as Toulouse are around . . .

On a sodden night in the Stade de France, with a greasy pill, Toulouse provided a masterclass in cup rugby that, had he been an analyst rather than the La Rochelle senior coach, Ronan O’Gara would have admired.

The flagship match of French club, broadcast live in over 100 countries, had an attendance of 14,000 and a suitable sense of occasion.

The kick-off was preceded by La Marseillaise and the traditional handshake between the players and the president, Emmanuel Macron, who took time to talk with each of them.

A key factor in Toulouse’s fifth Champions Cup success when beating La Rochelle at Twickenham was the contrasting place-kicking of Romain Ntamack and Ihaia West, and although Ntamack was ruled out this time, a similar plotline unfolded.

Thomas Ramos moved to outhalf and after Ramos had opened the scoring from halfway, West missed a none too difficult penalty.

With the Toulouse lineout performing much better, and Antoine Dupont and the outstanding Ramos controlling territory, Ramos added a drop goal and a penalty from near the touchline after the La Rochelle defensive maul, untypically, was out of sync.

Their attacking lineout also malfunctioned for Toulouse to go downfield and Cheslin Kolbe landed a drop goal from just inside halfway for a 12-0 interval lead. In the conditions that was huge.

Once La Rochelle lost Brice Dulin after the first quarter Ramos exploited his absence under the high ball. As in the European final, and as Richie Arnold freely admitted at half-time, Toulouse targeted Will Skelton, and nullified him. The big Australian had one fumble and the first half ended with the equally corralled Gregory Alldritt doing likewise.

After West rewarded a re-energised La Rochelle on the resumption by landing a penalty, the All Blacks World Cup winners Jerome Kaino, in his last game, and Victor Vito came on to play out the last half-hour as opposing ‘8s’.

A second West miss was compounded by Ramos’s touch-finder and, after a mix-up between Tawera Kerr-Barlow and West, his third penalty for a 15-3 lead and another for 18-3. Dany Priso’s maul try was scarcely a consolation.

It’s in the Toulouse DNA. When you know how to win, you know how to win.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 3 mins: Ramos pen 3-0; 9: Ramos drop goal 6-0; 34: Ramos pen 9-0; 40: Kolbe drop goal 12-0; (half-time 12-0); 43: West pen 12-3; 64 : Ramos pen 15-3; 73: Ramos pen 18-3; 77: Priso try 18-8.

TOULOUSE: Cheslin Kolbe; Juan Cruz Mallía, Santiago Chocobares, Pita Ahki, Matthis Lebel; Thomas Ramos, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Charlie Faumuina; Rory Arnold, Richie Arnold; Rynhardt Elstadt, Francois Cros, Selevasio Tolofua.

Replacements: Jerome Kaino for Tolofua (52 mins), Peato Mauvaka for Marchand (57 mins), Joe Tekori for Richie Arnold (59 mins), Dorian Aldegheri for Faumuina (61 mins), Rodrigue Neti for Baille (63 mins), Thibaud Flament for Rory Arnold (68 mins),Maxime Médard for Lebel (73 mins), Alexi Balès for Dupont (78 mins).

LA ROCHELLE: Brice Dulin; Dillyn Leyds, Raymond Rhule, Geoffrey Doumayrou, Arthur Retière; Ihaia West, Tawera Kerr-Barlow; Reda Wardi, Facunda Bosch, Uini Atonio; Romain Sazy (capt), Will Skelton; Wiann Liebenberg, Kevin Gourdon, Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements: Jules Favre for Dulin (21 mins), Victor Vito for Alldritt (47 mins), Thomas Lavault for Sazy (61 mins), Dany Priso for Wardi (62 mins), Jules Plisson for West (64 mins), Samuel Lagrange for Bosch, Arthur Joly for Atonio (both 68 mins), Jule Le Bail for Kerr-Barlow (73 mins). Not used: Thomas Lavault.

Referee: Matthieu Reynal.

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